I feel compelled to respond to the allegations made by the Guyana Press Association President, Ms. Nazima Raghubir regarding the Presidential Outreach held at Leonora between March 30th and March 31st. As a writer, I know that the PPP/C government believes and embraces press freedom as well as all other freedoms enshrined in the constitution. But I also know that no freedom is absolute; they do have limits. A Code of Conduct for the Press, for example, requires balanced (or impartial) news coverage and news analysis. As far as practicable, a responsible journalist will also fact check information before having it published.
Let us put the Leonora Outreach in its proper context. It was the first time in Region 3 where a press conference was held (comprising the President, his cabinet, support staff from other essential Government agencies and the Guyana media) in the presence of a diverse group of residents. The environment was completely different from other press conferences where only the press and either the government or the opposition parties, and sometimes with visiting dignitaries and local and foreign executives, were in attendance. I am not sure if media representatives understood the special setting for the press conference. Were their expectations, for example, similar to those of the regular press conferences in which they participate? Did they understand that some of the residents at that press conference were from the same home village as the President? Did they make any allowance that the residents’ emotional connection with the President is strong? The residents view the President as their champion. And to question the President about a topic which they do not consider as a top priority, did not go down well with them.
According to Ms. Raghubir, the first question asked by one of the media houses was related to the oil and gas sector and it was greeted by someone in the audience with a sigh of “Oh Lord!” Just imagine that Region 3 residents went there to anxiously waiting to hear about their house lot applications, their markets’ upgrade, their roads and bridges to be fixed, their flooding to stop, their job training, their assistance in farming, etc., and the first thing they heard from the press was none of those pressing issues but a question on oil and gas, which was not their immediate concern. I watched other residents expressing their frustration with the question.
Ms. Raghubir regarded the person’s remark as disrespectful. I share a different view. That person wanted his problem to be resolved and he knows that the press cannot do that, but the President can. This approach helps to understand his behavior. I do not support any form of uncivil behavior. But to imply that it was orchestrated behavior is unfortunate. Rather, it was a spontaneous act, something over which the President had no control. The defining word of “heckler” is certainly out of context. There was definitely no attempt to interrupt or abuse the reporter from asking her question, either verbally or physically. The President entertained one more question in the interest of time then closed the Press Conference.
The big story at Leonora was the super outreach that delivered so many things to the residents. To convert this into a media story by claiming victim status, is totally misplaced. At the outreach, 12 people got titles to their house lots, residents will get their roads fixed, they will get job training, farmers will be assisted with farm to market roads upgraded, and squatter communities will be regularized or given alternative housing locations, among others. These are the things that matter most to residents, and they rightfully applauded the President for delivering on their campaign promise and for going beyond that.
I reiterate I was there along with family members and several villagers, and I was therefore in a better position to comment first- hand on the events in contrast to Ms. Raghubir, who was not there, and who received second-hand information. Her claim of intimidation of the press by PPP/C supporters is without merit. I know many of the residents and they are peaceful people, but they always long to get reliable news and analysis, and especially those that impact them directly. To articulate that “the atmosphere was unwelcoming,” was far from reality and blown out of proportion. Being absent, the writer could not empathize with the state of mind of those present but to offer an opinion based on interpretation!
Ms. Raghbir uses the opportunity to lament that the PPPC government has not appointed a Cabinet Secretary to host regular press conferences. The government has an agency, DPI, to provide daily information to the public and the press. Additionally, the Vice President hosts press conferences at convenient times. Each government ministry also issues press releases and hosts press conferences periodically about projects within their ministries. Whether there is a need for regular (weekly or forth-nightly) press conferences is a matter for the government to determine.
Ms. Raghubir likens the failure to host elections of the Guyana Press Association with the PPP/C’s Congress. Why is she seeking refuge in PPP/C’s deferment of their Congress? The PPP/C runs a government with multiple development projects, varying and expanding demands, and grapple with numerous challenges. Nevertheless, I have heard from a PPP/C source that their Congress will be conducted later in 2023. Does the GPA have a date for their election?